2008 Golden Heart © Winner
…They floated off, the old man watching them, until the tall grasses swallowed him up and the only thing to be seen was the blue bowl of sky overhead and the long, stretched-out wings of a dark, silent cormorant that flew overhead.
“Ye gave him coin, Senna?”
At Finian’s sharp tone, she looked down from the bird and nodded.
He snorted. “Ye bribed him. That’s something ye English like to do.”
She smiled loftily. “And something you Irish like to do is assume you understand the meaning of things. ‘Twasn’t a bribe. And if you cannot see that, then I am at a loss for words.”
He snorted again. “That’ll be a rare day in hell.”
“You snort a lot,” she pointed out.
He stared at her a moment. “Lay down.”
“An Irishman in an Irish curragh floating down an Irish river with some sacks of skins is unremarkable. You, remarkable. Lay down.”
“How am I remarkable?” she asked, already lowering herself.
He just looked at her.
She did insist on disrobing somewhat, rather than lying in wet leather, to be baked like a cod in the sun. He grumbled but she was resolute, and in the end, he relented.
A brief, disagreeable delay ensured while she hitched and yanked at various wet clothes, disrobing down to a thin linen shift. Then she lay down in the bottom of the boat.
The sacks of skins were not down here with her, she realized irritably, although they would have made perfect bedding. But they were perched on one of the benches, sunning themselves. Finian’s sword and their bows were down here with her, of course, out of sight but within easy reach. They were also poking her.
She shuffled around, trying to fit into the small cramped hull of the boat, which really was not where she wished to be, not even for a moment. She was squished, her arms tight up against her sides. It smelled. It was mucky. It was wet. Wet, as if a small pond held a secret life down in the basin of the curmudgeon’s curragh, or whatever Finian had called it.
“Mmm?” He didn’t look down. His powerful arms kept up a powerful paddling. She could almost feel the river skiffing away not an inch below her body.
“I think there’s fish down here.”
“Aye. This river has many fish.“
“No. I mean this boat. Swimming around me. Little tiny fish.”
His lips twitched.
“If you laugh, I’m getting up,” she warned.
His voice went low, his lips hardly moved. Senna barely had time to feel a tingle of concern before she heard the shouts of men at the shoreline. The rush of panic came flying for her. English men. English soldiers.
They’d been found.
“Heave to, Irishman,” one of them called out.
He shoved the paddle deep into the mud of the riverbed and let the side of the boat run up against it, which halted the boat from sailing any further down the river. That would have send the soldiers shouting for whatever others were billeted the people and patrolling the lands. It also kept the curragh from going any closer to the shore.
“That looks like O’Mallery’s nubbing boat,” one of them said.
“That’s so,” agreed Finian easily. “He let me use it.”
“Not bloody likely,” muttered the shorter one. They two stared at each other a moment, then the taller one snapped his fingers.
“O’Mallery don’t let his wife use his pecker,” he snarled. “Come over here, boy.”
Senna could almost feel Finian rise up in the boat, like a huge wave uncoiling itself close to shore. She grabbed his boot. His steely gaze snapped down. With her free hand and an open palm, she mimed going softly down. Sit down. Calm down.
“For me,” she whispered.
He fired his gaze up again. “There’s only two of them,” he said, not moving his lips.
“Now there’s only two. You said you enjoyed traveling with me. I enjoy traveling with you, too. Let it be.”
“I’ve let a lot of things be,” he said in a calm voice. That worried her. He was still squinting towards the shoreline, locked, she supposed, in mortal eye combat with one of the English soldiers.
“I’ll make it up to you,” she whispered urgently.
The faintest trace of a smile lifted his lips.
“Boy, git over here.”
It was the whisky that made her do it. She was fairly certain of that. The hot, uninhibiting flush the drink sent coursing through her limbs had floated into her brain and melted her wits. She took a deep breath, gave her tunic a harsh tug so it tore further, exposing an immodest curve of her breasts and the valley between. Then she sat up. Unraveled, really. Or so she hoped.
Finian’s jaw dropped, but not so far as the English boys’ did on the shore.
“Jay-sus,” one of them shouted, jumping back like she was one of the fey.
She smiled as lustily as she could and draped her arms over Finian’s thighs, her face close to his groin, implying she’d only just lifted her mouth away.
“Hello lads,” she said in a confident, husky tone. Or did it sound like she was sick? She didn’t quite know how to sound seductive, and hoped this would do. “Are we disturbing ye?”
She tried to sound as much like Finian as possible, the rocking cadence of his speech, the slow, seductive dropping off of the sharp-pointed ends of words, as if he couldn’t be bothered to stab so at a thought.
The solders gaped. Finian adapted immediately. He put his palm lightly but possessively around her back of her head, exerting the slightest pressure downward toward what was now, partially, male hardness. He was obviously familiar with the move. A firey rush shot through her womb.
The young soldiers turned their gapes to Finian, then burst out laughing, smacking each other on the arms, as if they’d accomplished something great and worthy. All pretense of being on opposing sides fell away in the face of getting a woman to suck their—.
Holding her stiff smile, Senna said through unmoving lips, “You may attack them now.”
Finian didn’t remove his gaze from them either. “Shall I? And yet, we like traveling together.”
“Let’s try this, then.” She lifted her voice. “Have a good day, boys,” she sang out, lifting one hand to wave. “I know we will.”
Finian yanked his paddle up and the boat began slipping downstream. One of the soldiers stepped forward, a concerned look on his face. He raised a hand, half roused from his voyeuristic stupor.
Again, it was the whisky that gave her the idea. She was quite certain this time. She bent her head and brushed her lips over Finian’s groin.
The soldiers’ jaws dropped, then they exploded into whoops and hollers, jumping up and down like they were standing on a beehive. Nothing about Finian changed, except that his hand tightened almost imperceptibly around the back of her head.
The river sluiced away beneath the boat, but Senna, to her own dim surprise, did not move. The bottom of the boat was hard and wet, with a rib bone-like wooden beam jutting into her as she knelt between Finian’s legs. But she didn’t feel a thing.
All she was aware of was Finian’s hard thighs beneath her arms, the heat of him engulfing her chin and cheeks, the hot sun on her top of her head, and the powerful rising up of his chest. His was looking down, his face shadowed, his dark eyes unreadable but watching her. And his hand was still on the back of her head.
She must never drink whisky again….